Species Profile

Cerulean Warbler

Scientific Name: Setophaga cerulea
Other/Previous Names: Dendroica cerulea
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2010
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C2a(ii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

This sky-blue forest songbird is at the northern edge of its breeding range in Canada. Relying on relatively large tracts of undisturbed hardwood forest, it has rather specialized habitat requirements on both its breeding and wintering grounds. Its population has been experiencing significant declines across most of its range since the 1960s and the present Canadian population is estimated at about only 1000 individuals. These declines are believed to be driven mostly by loss and degradation of this species’ wintering habitat, which is restricted to montane forests in the northern Andes of South America. It is also threatened by habitat loss and degradation on its breeding grounds. There is evidence for continuing declines. Also, new information on demographics suggests that chances for population rescue in Canada are lower than previously thought. 
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1993. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2003. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2010.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler Photo 1

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Description

The Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a small wood-warbler. The adult male is sky blue above and white below, while the female is blue-green above and whitish below. Both sexes have two prominent white wing-bars and white tail spots. The species has generated considerable public, scientific and conservation interest recently due to its beauty, habitat specificity, and international conservation concerns. It is considered an umbrella species that reflects the maintenance of populations of other bird species that require mature deciduous forest habitats. [Updated by COSEWIC- Nov. 2010]

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Distribution and Population

This species breeds in the deciduous forests of eastern North America but has a patchy distribution. The Canadian breeding range consists of two main geographic clusters in southwestern and southeastern Ontario, plus a small number of breeding individuals in southwestern Quebec. It winters in a relatively narrow elevational zone in the eastern Andes of South America, from Venezuela to northwestern Bolivia. The Canadian population is estimated to be 433-543 pairs (866-1086 mature individuals), most of which are found in the Frontenac Axis region of southeastern Ontario. The most recent global population estimate is 625,000 mature individuals. Hence, Canada supports roughly 0.2% of the global population. The Cerulean Warbler’s North American population experienced an average decline of about 2.9% per year from 1966 to 2006. In Ontario, recent breeding bird atlas work suggests a non-significant decline of 30% province-wide over a 20-year period (1981-85 and 2001-2005), which is equivalent to a decline of at least 16% over 10 years. More severe declines have occurred in the province’s Carolinian region (at least 24% over 10 years). In Quebec, Cerulean Warblers have disappeared from five of six known sites occupied since the 1960s. Overall, the Canadian population has declined by at least 16% over the past 10 years. The potential for rescue is believed to be low, owing to ongoing population declines in the U.S. [Updated by COSEWIC- Nov. 2010]

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Habitat

On the breeding grounds, Cerulean Warblers are associated with large tracts of mature deciduous forest with tall trees and an open understory. They are found in both wet bottomland forests and upland areas. At a finer spatial scale, canopy configuration (e.g., foliage stratification, gap distribution, tree species distribution) are predictors of habitat suitability. On the wintering grounds in the Andes, they occupy a rather narrow elevational range (roughly 500-2000 m above sea level). Here, they are found principally in mature and relatively undisturbed humid forests, but will also use rustic shade-coffee, cardamom and cacao plantations that retain native trees. [Updated by COSEWIC - Nov. 2010]

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Biology

Female Cerulean Warblers lay 2-5 eggs per clutch. Only a single brood is produced per year. Generally 2-3 fledglings are produced per breeding pair and about 75% of pairs have successful nests. The species appears to have low between-year survivorship, likely due to a combination of mortality experienced during long-distance migration and low survivorship on the wintering grounds. While demographic studies across the species’ breeding range have shown that nest success and fecundity in eastern Ontario are among the highest in North America, it appears that immigration from the U.S. is required to maintain the Canadian population. [Updated by COSEWIC - Nov. 2010]

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Threats

Habitat loss and degradation on the wintering grounds are believed to be the primary threats. Massive deforestation of primary montane forests of the northern Andes has occurred in recent decades, and this threat continues. The major threats on the breeding grounds are also related to habitat loss and degradation caused by some forms of intensive logging and the conversion of mature forest to agricultural lands. Habitat fragmentation, which increases nest parasitism by cowbirds and the risk of nest depredation, also seems to be an important threat. Other threats include predicted increases in catastrophic weather events (e.g., severe ice-storms and hurricanes) on the breeding grounds and during migration, decreasing habitat quality due to exotic forest pathogens and forest insect outbreaks, and increasing risks of collision with tall structures during migration. [Updated by COSEWIC - Nov. 2010]

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Cerulean Warbler is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

27 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Cerulean Warbler Dendroica cerulea in Canada (2011-09-09)

    The Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a small wood-warbler. The adult male is sky blue above and white below, while the female is blue-green above and whitish below. Both sexes have two prominent white wing-bars and white tail spots. The species has generated considerable public, scientific and conservation interest recently due to its beauty, habitat specificity, and international conservation concerns. It is considered an umbrella species that reflects the maintenance of populations of other bird species that require mature deciduous forest habitats.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Cerulean Warbler (2011-12-08)

    This sky-blue forest songbird is at the northern edge of its breeding range in Canada. Relying on relatively large tracts of undisturbed hardwood forest, it has rather specialized habitat requirements on both its breeding and wintering grounds. Its population has been experiencing significant declines across most of its range since the 1960s and the present Canadian population is estimated at about only 1000 individuals. These declines are believed to be driven mostly by loss and degradation of this species’ wintering habitat, which is restricted to montane forests in the northern Andes of South America. It is also threatened by habitat loss and degradation on its breeding grounds. There is evidence for continuing declines. Also, new information on demographics suggests that chances for population rescue in Canada are lower than previously thought. 
  • Response Statements - Cerulean Warbler (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) in Canada (2021-10-28)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). for the Cerulean Warbler and has prepared this recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, as per section 39(1) of SARA. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Recovery Strategy for the Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) in Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada (2021-10-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada applies to all federally owned lands and waters managed by Parks Canada in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), including Bead Hill National Historic Site. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of Ontario, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, and environmental non-government organizations as per section 48(1) of SARA. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at RNUP. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) in Canada (2011-03-22)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed Special Concern species. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister for the management of the Cerulean Warbler and has prepared this plan, as per section 65 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (volume 151, number 5, 2017) (2017-03-08)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with respect to the status of the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 151, number 23, 2017) (2017-11-15)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances), and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem can lead to a loss of individuals and species resulting in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004-03-03)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2011 (2011-12-08)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 8, 2012 for species undergoing normal consultations and by November 8, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.
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